At the moment, autonomous vehicles are the next big thing. Every automaker is scrambling to come out with new self-driving tech, whether it be autonomous driving aids, safety systems or full on self-driving cars. However, the final goal of complete automotive autonomy is proving to be a Herculean task, as there are seemingly endless obstacles in the way. Software, data collection, laws and regulations, safety and reliability are all factors that must be taken into consideration and then there’s the simple question of whether or not a computer can drive among unpredictable humans. So it’s tough. But Baidu is about to make it a bit easier for automakers by releasing its self-driving operating system and technology for free.
You don’t see a lot of open-source technology in the automotive world. Car makers seem to guard their self-developed tech as if they were hiding the Holy Grail. Sometimes you see this sort of thing in the technology world, with companies sharing their software with other companies to further technological progress. Google sharing Android for free with mobile phone manufacturers is one example of open-source sharing in the tech world. Now, Baidu, the Chinese tech giant, is going to be offering its self-driving software for free to all auto manufacturers to use.
This self-driving operating system, known as Apollo, will be offered to any automaker looking to help develop self-driving cars. The idea is that not only will this drive progress in the world of autonomous tech but it will allow Baidu to supply some of the other systems that go along with its OS. So it’s a win/win for both Baidu and the automakers. In theory, at least.
There does seem to be some logic behind this. If Baidu can share what it’s done and what it knows, then it could make it easier for automakers to help develop their own technology on top of Baidu’s OS. This will make the leap to self-driving tech faster with less automakers trying things that don’t work. “We see a lot of reinventing the wheel,” says Qi Lu, President of Baidu. “Let’s innovate at a higher level.”
Baidu’s release of this tech will also help out a lot of Chinese auto manufacturers. In China, there are several very small and young carmakers who can’t afford to invest in their own tech. This move by Baidu will help them and bring more self-driving cars to Chinese roads.
Admittedly, Baidu isn’t exactly the leader in self-driving tech and still lags behind some of the other tech companies in terms of real-world test hours, such as Google. But it still has a lot of knowledge to share and tech that really works. At worst, this move can’t hurt the industry and will only help many small automakers to develop their own tech.